Dishwasher Secrets for Spotless Results

Get tips on everything from load strategies to water temperature.

ByELISABETH LEAMY via via logo
March 24, 2010, 3:28 PM

March 26, 2010 — -- Should you wash your dishes before you put them in the dishwasher? Knives up or down? How do you wash the dishwasher that washes your dishes?

There are some surprising answers because, let's face it, nobody reads their manual. We all just do what we've done for years. But there are secrets when it comes to dishwashing success.

If your goal is to make the machine last longer, then yes, pre-wash. If your goal is to make your own life last longer, then no.

You should get baked-on food and large chunks off, but dishwashers these days are built to handle the rest -- if you use the specialty settings. When I bought my new dishwasher I hit "normal wash" out of habit and was disappointed when there was lots of food left.

I've since learned to use the special buttons for high water pressure or pot scrubber mode and it works great. Also check to see if your dishwasher has an extra dry mode when you wash a lot of glasses. That way you don't have to do extra hand drying at the end.

You should check out your owner's manual for specific configurations, but Consumer Reports says load large dishes to the sides and back, so they don't block the water and soap from getting to smaller things.

You should try to put the dirty side of the dishes toward the center of the machine where they'll get more action.

And if you want your knives and forks cleanest, put them face up, but if you want them safest, face down.

Experts say most people use 10 to 15 times more soap than they need because soap is more concentrated these days and modern dishwashers are built to use less.

So instead of blindly filling up the little compartment, you need to read the directions on the package and then experiment and see if you can use even less than that.

Often, just a tablespoon will do. I've run out of dishwasher soap and just used water and it worked fine!

One caveat: if you have really hard water, which means high mineral content, then you may have to use more detergent to overcome that. You can buy special strips to test your water content at the hardware store.


Dishwasher Tips Hot and Cold: What's the Right Temp?

Many people don't know that many dishwashers have an internal heating element that gets the water hot enough, so you can turn your home water heater down a little to save money and avoid scalding and your dishwasher should still work just fine.

The smell is often caused by using too much soap which gums up the works.

The solution is to wash your dishwasher. I know it sounds crazy, but you can use a special dishwasher cleaning solution with citric acid as the active ingredient.

In my book, "The Savvy Consumer," I wrote about when to think about replacing your appliances. Check out a short excerpt below.

Appliances are big and pricey, so whether to fix it or trash it is a tough call.

The first step is to check your warranty. Many household appliances have long-term manufacturer's warranties. Next, get an estimate. If the repair cost is 50 percent or more of the price of replacement, you should scrap it. If the repair cost is 50 percent or less, ask yourself some questions. What kind of shape is the appliance in? If it's already been fixed several times, it may not be worth another overhaul.

Do newer models offer vastly improved features? For example, new refrigerators use less energy than old ones. You may be able to recoup part of the cost of replacement that way. Consider whether the appliance is unique. If it fits into an odd space or it's an unusual color, it may be too expensive and difficult to replace. Finally, figure out how old the appliance is. Over the years, experts have figured out the average life of most household appliances.

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